Every mom hopes for a healthy baby the moment she finds out she’s pregnant. But there’s a lot that happens between a positive test and baby’s arrival, including the labor and delivery stage.
Sure, the waiting is not the easiest part, but labor is intense for mom and her baby. Once the baby makes his or her entrance, there’s a collective sigh of relief as parents count fingers and toes, listen to their babies cry, and finally take a break to rest.
But baby’s exit from the womb isn’t the only thing moms should be concerned with. Hopefully, labor progresses easily and baby comes out without a problem. But whether mom has a natural birth or winds up with a cesarean delivery, there are many indicators of baby’s health in the few hours after labor. The first few days of life are also a trying time, as mom works on learning to care for herself and her baby postpartum.
So many things are up in the air with a newborn, and it can take a while to figure out what’s normal and what’s not. Specifically, within the first hour after baby takes his first breath, there are 20 things babies do that are indicators of a healthy and happy infant.
20 Open Their Eyes
Moms (and their birth photographers) are often delighted when babies are born with their eyes wide open. Many babies will keep their eyes closed until after delivery, however, gradually opening them as birth attendants wipe fluid from their eyes. But did you know that babies’ eyes actually begin opening and even blinking at around 28 weeks gestation? A baby born before that point may not be physically able to open its eyes, Parents.com notes. But healthy term babies should open their eyes almost immediately upon birth. Twin babies even practice locating one another via sight while in the womb together!
19 Crawl To Where The Milk Is
Moms usually think of newborns as stationary little creatures that lie there waiting for mom to care for them. But according to Breastcrawl.org, every newborn has the ability to find mom’s tata on her own, initiating breastfeeding without any help at all! Studies suggest that babies can smell mom - and her milk-making hormones - and have a natural instinct to crawl to where the food is. Visual and auditory cues also help baby to find the right spot to latch on, so keeping the room quiet with baby and mom concentrating on each other can help the duo achieve this astonishing yet natural feat.
18 Spit Up Fluid
It’s one thing if your baby emerges from the womb unresponsive and not breathing. But it’s entirely another when they slip out and begin coughing or spitting up fluid. A little fluid is normal, however, and the fact that baby coughs it up on his own is a sign that his little system is healthy and functioning. Regurgitated amniotic fluid may look yellow or clear, but it can also be tinged with red if baby swallowed blood during birth, Mother Bloom Midwifery specifies. In some cases, babies might need a little help with a bulb syringe, but most of the time, sneezing and coughing are enough to clear things up.
17 Skin Becomes Pinker
Regardless of your baby’s skin color at birth, he’ll probably change a few shades in the first few minutes and hours! Even infants who arrive looking pale or even blue should perk up (and pink up) soon after their arrival. However, babies who have the benefit of delayed cord clamping tend to become even ruddier in their complexions. Babies who require immediate assistance, whether preterm or otherwise with an illness, don’t always have the opportunity to get the blood and nutrients from their umbilical cords. Delayed clamping can give babies more blood, increasing their blood volume by up to one third, NPR reported- making a perfectly pink baby within minutes.
16 Soaks Up The Diaper
Did you know that while they’re in the womb, babies practice “drinking” by sipping on amniotic fluid? While they’re wrapped up and cozy inside mom, babies essentially recycle their own fluids. No worries, though- it’s perfectly healthy and even nutritious at that point. But once baby is born, their own systems begin working and what’s inside gets flushed out. That means a healthy baby will urinate within the first 24 hours of life, but more often it’s within an hour or so of birth. If he or she doesn’t go pee, doctors will want to run tests to determine the reason why, Merck Manual explains. However, they note, it is normal for babies to have an orange or pink tinge to their urine at first.
15 And Stinks It Up!
Another event that parents can look forward to is baby’s first dirty diaper. A baby’s first bowel movement should happen within the first 24 hours after birth, but many babies will instinctively empty their bowels ASAP. Many babies also pass their first poo, meconium, while they’re still in route to the womb exit. As Merck Manual explains, failure to poo may mean baby has a birth defect or other issue that’s causing blockage of the intestines. Of course, most healthy babies will pass this first diaper duty promptly and without any issues- giving mom and dad their first on-the-job cleanup experience.
14 Examine Mom's Face
There’s often an argument over what and how well babies can see soon after birth. But research suggests that within a few minutes after birth, babies are more likely to look at faces rather than “patterns of similar brightness.” Breastcrawl.org also explains that babies merely minutes old will also turn their eyes and heads toward movement. Moms who hold their babies close directly after birth can observe this in their newborns- many babies will lie quietly and examine mom’s face up close, even ignoring the breast in favor of locking eyes with mom. Researchers presume that this influences the baby’s early bonding with mom, and likewise mom’s maternal instincts toward her little one.
13 Flexes The Vocal Cords
It’s a heartwarming sound to new parents, and a grating one to those veterans among us, but crying is the ultimate sign of a healthy baby. Babies cry for many reasons, and shortly after birth, it’s usually because so many new things are happening that are overwhelming and even scary to an infant. Babies will also cry when they’re hungry, although they tend to show more subtle signs first, before resorting to screaming for food. Newborns even use different cries for different needs, but ultimately, they’re usually looking for mom- and the nourishment and safety she provides- when they turn on the waterworks.
12 Takes Bold Breaths
A newborn baby begins breathing soon after birth. In fact, traveling down the birth canal squeezes baby and can jump-start the lungs to begin working. Breathing can be irregular in infants, Mother Bloom Midwifery notes, even in healthy newborns. However, there is a normal range that baby’s breathing should fall within, and that’s 40 to 60 breaths per minute. A sick or otherwise in need baby may have respirations over 70 breaths per minute, have labored breathing with grunting, flare their nostrils, or begin changing color to red or even blue. Fortunately, birth attendants are trained to spot these symptoms in your infant, and a baby that needs help will soon get it after a respiratory exam.
11 Reflexes Will Start
From the moment your healthy baby emerges from the womb, he likely won’t seem too happy about it. Along with crying, he may throw his arms wide and appear to be panicking. But this is perfectly normal and healthy- in fact, babies who don’t have this reflex may have an underlying health condition. Known as the Moro reflex, this is a movement that babies involuntarily make when startled, Healthychildren.org explains. Babies will throw their arms and legs out, their heads back, and then quickly pull their arms back in. The idea is that babies are trying to grab onto something to keep from falling.
10 Passes The APGAR Test
It’s not something that many practitioners discuss with expecting moms, but every baby undergoes at least one test immediately after birth. It’s called the APGAR, and it’s an evaluation of baby’s Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration. As Stanford Children’s Health explains, the “score” ranges from zero to 10. Healthy babies score between eight and 10, while an unresponsive or sick baby will score substantially lower. Many practitioners repeat this test a few minutes after birth as well, expecting an increase if the first score was less than desirable. Most babies ace this first test, however, and even a baby who requires some breathing or other assistance can often begin functioning on his own soon enough.
9 Takes A Snooze
Although the best place for a newborn baby to be is skin-to-skin with mom, it can also make him or her drowsy! Once baby arrives and is placed in mom’s arms, Breastcrawl.org explains, she’ll likely gaze at mom for a while, then take a little nap. This is perfectly normal behavior for healthy babies, so moms shouldn’t be concerned if their fresh little ones seem sleepy. There is a difference between being sleepy and being lethargic, however, and babies should still wake to eat every few hours. But in the first hour, a little catnap is well-earned and par for course.
8 Looks For Light
A sick or preterm baby may not be as developed as a healthy term infant, and their eyes may not be open yet or even fully functional. But healthy babies will start looking around shortly after birth. While their primary priority is looking at mom, babies will also look at light and can detect motion, WebMD explains. Newborns can see objects and colors, but only ones within about eight to 15 inches away. Babies even prefer to look at faces rather than other objects. Just another reason to keep mom and dad close enough to stare at in the early days!
7 Foraging For Food
Though most healthy babies aren’t necessarily born hungry, they do have a built-in instinct to “forage.” It’s called rooting, and it’s a newborn reflex that helps babies find a source of food, Healthychildren.org explains. The automatic response means if you stroke baby’s cheek or mouth, he’ll turn toward your hand and try to latch on. A sick baby, on the other hand, may not arrive with this reflex activated. Babies who are premature or otherwise ill may not have exhibit behaviors that we expect in full-term infants. Sucking is another automatic reflex that healthy babies have, while ill babies have to “learn” to feed by mouth.
6 Listens To Mom And Dad
There’s a reason why most hospitals choose to perform hearing screens on newborn babies, and it’s to rule out potential hearing problems. We already know that auditory processing is important for newborns, since they begin listening to and learning language immediately after birth. They start listening in the womb, Kidshealth.org explains, and baby can recognize mom’s voice in particular, straight out of the womb. If your baby doesn’t respond to your voice, that could be an indicator that something serious is up. Healthy babies turn their heads and respond to mom, dad, and any other voice or sound, especially loud or unexpected ones.
5 Moves Away From The Pain
Any parent who has watched their infant undergo a heel stick for newborn testing or receive a shot recognizes that infants have a low tolerance for pain. Although moms can usually nurse or give baby a bottle during painful experiences, infants do their best to stay away from painful stimuli. A healthy baby will resist pain, and even possesses a protective instinct that causes her to move away from an object that could hurt her, Healthychildren.org says. The built-in defense mechanism means some squirming whenever a potentially scary object approaches, or when baby senses something painful happening like a heel prick.
4 Keeps Sugar Steady
Although it’s mostly a concern for moms who have diabetes or gestational diabetes, newborn babies should be able to regulate their own blood sugar immediately after birth. A baby that’s one to two hours old should have a blood glucose level of around 2 mmol/L, one study from Paediatrics & Child Health explained, but those levels soon rise to 3 mmol/L- the same as adults. Healthy babies “keep themselves well supplied with energy by keeping their blood glucose levels within a normal, safe range” the study summarized. Both low and high blood sugar numbers can be dangerous for infants, and moms with any type of diabetes during pregnancy may need to check their infants’ blood sugars for the first few hours of life.
3 Warms Up Right
It’s a fact that newborn babies don’t regulate their own temperatures very well. After all, they’ve just spent nine months (or more) in a warm and cozy womb without any responsibilities for their own wellbeing. But once she emerges from the womb, baby’s systems suddenly must begin working on their own. This can mean dips in temperature as baby adjusts to life outside the womb. Keeping close to mom can help regulate baby’s temperature, but little ones should begin to regulate their own temperature soon enough, Mother Bloom Midwifery confirms.
2 Slow And Steady!
Just like adults, even newborn babies should have a steady resting heartbeat. The average is 120 to 160 beats per minute, Stanford Children’s Health clarifies, and healthy newborns will keep within this range even when sleeping, crying, or while doing any other activity. Some change is normal, but continuity is key. An unhealthy baby, however, may have difficulty maintaining a steady heart rate. The same way that an irregular heartbeat is a concern when baby is inside the womb during mom’s ultrasound, it’s still a concern when baby comes out. A baby with an irregular- whether high or low- pulse needs medical attention immediately.
1 The Baby Posture
Because babies spend so many months in close quarters, most are still “tucked” in even outside the uterus. Many moms who had breech babies will notice their little ones take a while to decompress into a “normal” baby posture! But this tucking is natural, and as Stanford Children’s Health explains, baby’s posture is an indicator of neuromuscular maturity. Basically, a baby that holds his arms and legs close, has flexible wrists, whose arms “spring back” into a flexed position, and is bendy in the right places is a healthy infant. Babies that are stiff, floppy, or otherwise abnormal need additional examination and possibly intervention.